“Us” is the latest horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele. Lupita Nyong’o stars alongside Winston Duke as a married couple who are taking their children on vacation that turns into a bizarre encounter with deranged and distorted versions of themselves.
The films starts off with a flashback to 1986 where Adelaide Wilson has a very troubling encounter when out with her parents at a carnival on the beaches of Santa Cruz. Adelaide has grown up, married, and has her own family but is still haunted by her experience over thirty years before.
This is a film with quite a bit of clever originality to it but still leaves some loose threads. Lupita Nyong’o does put in a pretty convincing performance on the lead role as both the protective yet terrified mother as well as the doppelganger. I get that she was the lead role, but I think the father, played by Winston Duke, could have been created as less of a doofus. He has his moments of courage, I suppose, but sometimes he just stumbled his way through whatever peril he encounters by dumb luck. Duke’s role is supposed to be kind of an everyman, but I would have liked to have something there where I was better convinced as to how Adelaide fell for this guy and started a family with him.
There are some of the standard moments designed to startle, and I was often quite startled. I thought the two children played by Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex were pretty well cast. Wright’s Zora Wilson had just the right amount of teenage sass without being unlikeable. Even the young Jason Wright got some moments to show some courage and cleverness throughout the film. Both performed their darker roles quite well. Wright had an appropriately creepy grin when playing the doppelganger.
One of the other issues I had was that some of the gallows humor Peele tried to inject throughout didn’t quite land right at the moment it was being delivered. I wasn’t sure if he was trying for some kind of black comedy or what at times. Not all of it missed the mark though, in my view. There were times I was sort of in on the joke.
There was this other family with whom the Wrights were friends that seemed a little odd to me. Tim Heldecker plays the patriarch of the Tyler family and just seemed to be more of an obnoxious caricature. He just seems to be the obligatory buddy who really wouldn’t have been missed. I just didn’t care about the family’s fate when it came about.
There’s a lot in this movie that works well enough even if it is a strange one. I also think this is a hard genre to play in at times. I do appreciate that Peele is going for something with more originality than what we viewers usually get, so he should continue that effort. For the most part, he does succeed in being interesting and stoking some curiosity when he has something else coming out.
The film does have a pretty solid cast and some creativity in the storytelling. In spite of some annoying flaws, I would still count as one of the better horror films I have seen in recent years.